Last week, the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2019, which amends the ISRWD Act, 1956, was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The Union government is empowered to make laws on regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys. However, water is a State subject, which includes water supplies, irrigation and canals.
A few years ago, opinions were elicited from the States on the earlier Draft Amendment Bill, but it is better to have a thorough discussion in Parliament on it. The proposed changes will drastically change certain aspects of the Act. This will greatly affect States like Telangana.
The ISRWD Act enacted in 1956 saw several amendments. The latest amendment to the Act was in 2002 based on the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission. To overcome ‘inordinate delay’ in adjudication process, it was made mandatory for the Union government to constitute a Tribunal within one year of the receipt of a request from any State government.
But in due course, the Union government did not follow the stipulation. For instance, Goa made a complaint under Section-3 for constituting Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (MDWT) in 2002, and it took a decade for the Union government to constitute the MWDT. In the case of Telangana’s complaint made in 2014, till now its grievances have not been referred to a Tribunal.
The amendment of 2002 laid down timelines for adjudicating and forwarding the report and further report by Tribunals. The Tribunals, earlier to that Act and later, have adjudicated within reasonable time periods unless there were hurdles due to other reasons. For instance, the Ravi Beas Tribunal forwarded report in one year and the further report is still pending only due to other reasons. Many of those aspects have been answered in the present Bill.
The present Bill stipulates not reopening the issues already settled by the Tribunals prior to commencement of the Act, 2019. But circumstances, which change over time, necessitate changes in the allocations adjudicated by the Tribunals. Otherwise, a State or a region within a river basin may be deprived of benefits in perpetuity. The elastic action in making laws by Parliament with respect to inter-State water dispute as envisaged by Dr Ambedkar is to tackle such change in situations.
The KWDT-II observed that disputes referred to the Tribunal can be considered on merit and be decided. “Disputes… can be referred again considering the significant material changes on account of a long interval of time, resulting in new facts, circumstances and developments coming into existence having material effect on the merit of the case namely equitable distribution of the water. It may be equated with a new dispute.”
Due to the technological advancement in agriculture and irrigation practices, there will be large savings in water utilisation, which would be available for reallocation. Situations may arise where water availability increases due to other reasons as well. For instance, in Krishna Basin, a large quantum of water will be available on both the above counts.
Apart from savings in water due to technology advancements, there is a lot of scope for augmenting water from River Godavari (Polavaram project) to River Krishna (Prakasham barrage), which can be utilised elsewhere in the upstream in drought-prone areas of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, where not even single crop is being irrigated.
It is also possible to divert water from Godavari to Krishna in a cost-effective way from Polavaram to Srisailam through Prakasham-Pulcihintala-Nagarjunasagar, utilising the already existing reverse pumping facilities at Nagarjunasagar and Srisailam, and making use of the Krishna riverbed itself as conduit from Praksham to Srisailam.
Diversion of 110 tmc of water into Arabian Sea after generating power on Koyna, Indriyani and Mula in Krishna basin has to be relooked as currently there is a well-connected power grid in the country and there is need to raise water in the basin for irrigation, drinking and industrial purposes. Hence, the proposed Bill should have a provision to respond to the situation of changing circumstances.
Dispute Resolution Committee
Providing a Disputes Resolution Committee is a good initiative. However, the present Bill does not explicitly mention about the time period for the Union government to refer the issue to a Dispute Resolution Committee after receiving the request from a State government.
The provision regarding the distribution of water during distress situations needs to be reexamined. For instance, KWDT’s Final Award distributed waters which did not allow for deficit sharing among riparian States. The ambiguity needs to be tackled. The wording of the Bill gives an impression that the KWDT-II’s report and further report come into force immediately. If so, it may result in a chaotic situation in the Krishna basin as KWDT-II adjudication between AP and Telangana is still going on.
There should be a provision to bar a person from becoming a member or presiding officer of the Bench of the Tribunal if s/he happens to be from a State in the same river basin for which it is formed.
The proposed changes in the adjudication by the Tribunal, including reduced time limits, are rightly placed. There will be a Tribunal called ‘Inter-State Water Disputes Tribunal’ consisting of a pool of members, and from them three-member teams will be formed called Benches of the Tribunal. The Benches of the Tribunal are similar to present Tribunals. Novel features like one member in each Bench of the Tribunal compulsorily from experts in water resources, and stipulating to cover yield, efficiency in the use of water etc are good initiatives.
The Amendment Bill has rightly focused on making the present institutional architecture robust to reduce the time for logistics and infrastructure creation. However, the Bill must be thoroughly discussed and changes introduced to make it more vibrant. Specific issues regarding States like Telangana must be addressed sympathetically.
(The author is Secretary, Telangana Engineers JAC)